Author's note: A very special thanks to Blake N. Behrens of the fantastically talented RadFive.com team for his assistance with this article.
So, an ancient civilization got it into their heads that the world was going to end. That in and of itself isn’t news. But the Mayans took the time to build an elaborate, monolithic stopwatch out of stone to countdown the days until the precise moment the world would end.
You have to at least admire their commitment.
And for those Mayan Apocalypse Naysayers, you shouldn't be harsh on an ancient and venerable race just because they've become pop-culturally relevant. No, we should be harsh on those who made them pop-culturally relevant. Especially since they did it by willfully misunderstanding the entire calendar.
The calendar isn't actually counting down, it's counting up. Not to mention that the Long Count, the five-number date coming up on our December 21, 2012, is not the end of the Mayan calendar. If we wrote December 21 in a Mayan form with numerals (they actually had names for most of those slots so that a full day would actually be something like "7 Death 18 Yellow Sun"), it would read 18.104.22.168.0. But the actual "end" of the calendar is 22.214.171.124.19, which corresponds to October 12, 4772. So we've got a minute or two before we hit the actual Mayan expiration date.
But don't get me wrong, the number 13 had tremendous cultural importance to the Mayans. Which mean the Long Count date of 126.96.36.199.0 would hold a lot of significance for them. But they also looked at time as cyclical rather than a straight line. Everything that is happening had, in some form or fashion, happened already and would happen again.
The world had already ended twice for the Mayans. The gods had wiped humanity out once for being too noisy (the ultimate jerk neighbor revenge scenario) and again when Man forgot the gods.
This is worth noting because the 188.8.131.52.0 date is mentioned a couple of times, both in terms of descent by heavenly beings. But the glyphs that go into any kind of detail are scoured clean by time. Which, of course, leaves it wide open to wild speculation by all kinds of highly qualified people on the internet.
The most likely scenario is that the date will bring some sort of obscure astronomical event. The Mayans were pathologically fascinated with tracking the heavens. When you combine that with talk about descent of powerful beings from on high, you’re probably getting Something rising in the House of The Other Thing in a way that would have been highly exciting to an ancient Mayan.
But even if I turn out to be just another smart mouth on the internet and the Mayans did know something we dont, we can expect not only cataclysm, but also rebirth. Things will turn out okay, even if only in the long term. The sun will still rise, the crops will still grow, Man will continue. Only this time, maybe they can do it without NHL strikes, Honey Boo Boo, and other horrors of modern life.
Bring on the Apocalypse.